Brian Larsen, Cook County News-Herald – July 31, 2015
Following a packed public hearing held in the Cook County Commissioner’s room on July 28, commissioners voted 4-1 to allow Class 1 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to be driven on approximately four miles of the Gunflint Trail.
Voting for the amended ATV ordinance were Commissioners Frank Moe, Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble and Ginny Storlie with Jan Sivertson voting against the change to the 2009 ATV ordinance.
This past May Commissioners received a request from the Cook County ATV Club asking that Class 1 ATVs be allowed to travel on two sections of the Gunflint Trail. One would allow ATVs on a 1.4-mile section of the Gunflint Trail between the Pine Mountain Road and South Brule Road and another would open up a 2.6-mile section from the Lima Grade Road to Big Bear Lodge on what is called the Northwoods Loop. Both routes would allow riders to access businesses such as Windigo Lodge or Trail Center to stop for lunch or do other businesses in the Mid-Gunflint Trail area. After learning of the request, some Gunflint Trail citizens requested that the area to be open to ATVs be extended to County Road 92.
Commissioners listened to about two dozen people. Each speaker was given two minutes to state his or her case.
John McClure argued in favor of the ordinance change, saying in part, “The rules and regulations are usually not specific to one kind of vehicle, but apply to all users such as a need for a driver’s license, insurance, speed limits, registration, lights horn, some allowance for farm machinery, gross vehicle weight, etc. But all forms of travel are allowed from biking, walking, riding a horse, etc.
“As for the Gunflint Trail, can you name me one form of travel that is not allowed? I can only think of one, ATVs.
“Reasonable rules and regulations such as in the ATV ordinance are appropriate but an outright total restriction is not reasonable,” McClure said, adding he was in favor of opening up the entire Gunflint Trail to ATVs.
Class 2 ATVs, commonly referred to as side-by-side ATVs, already have the right under Minnesota State Statute to be driven the entire length of the Gunflint Trail. Class 1 ATVs have been allowed on the Gunflint Trail from within the City of Grand Marais to County Road 60 near Hedstrom Lumber Company since 2012. Before the initial county ATV ordinance was established in 2009, ATVs were ridden on every road in the county, including the Gunflint Trail, in the ditches when possible, but mostly on roads.
About a dozen people spoke in opposition to the ordinance change, most citing concerns about the safety of riding ATVs on pavement and on a road with mixed traffic speeds. Richard Fink, a retired physician talked about the injuries he had seen from ATV accidents, including people who had become paraplegics. Others expressed concern about ATVs introducing invasive species to the Gunflint Trail, about the loss of peace and quiet and about ATVs trespassing on their property. One man stated that none of the people who are asking for this ordinance change live in the Mid-Gunflint Trail area. Another man claimed that he and his wife were walking on Hungry Jack Road and they had to dive into the ditch to avoid being hit by racing ATVs.
Beside McClure, about a dozen people spoke in support of the ordinance, including ATV Club Secretary Rhonda Silence who urged commissioners to, “please open these sections of the Gunflint Trail, based on the record of responsible riding that have demonstrated since 2009.”
The area where Class 1 ATVs will now be driven on the Gunflint Trail will be posted for motorists warning of ATV traffic, and warning ATVs of oncoming traffic or dangerous curves. Those signs will be put up by the Cook County Highway Department in the next month or so.
There is one caveat—the ordinance will be reviewed in a year. At that time commissioners will decide whether to revoke the right to ride on these sections; whether to keep the ordinance and continue to review it annually; or make the change permanent. The county board, working in conjunction with Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen, is going to work on establishing some sort of criteria ordinance for this evaluation, and a committee may be formed to review the ordinance.
But even at that, Board Chair Heidi Doo-Kirk said, “If there is even one death, than I’m done. We will rescind this.”
Because the ordinance passed, ATV’s can now be driven on the two sections of the Gunflint Trail, however, Cook County attorney Molly Hicken advised, “For your own safety, we highly recommend ATV users wait to use these parts of the Gunflint Trail until signage is posted by the county.”